A couple of years ago Sinclair Ferguson wrote an extremely wise and helpful article entitled “A Preacher’s Decalogue” Themelios 36/2 (August 2011). This piece was generated by Ferguson’s reflections on this question as he pondered his own life as a minister and preacher of the gospel: “What Ten Commandments, what rule of preaching-life, do I wish someone had written for me to provide direction, shape, ground rules, that might have helped me keep going in the right direction and gaining momentum in ministry along the way?” Ferguson is Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, and Professor of Systematic Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, prior to which he taught Systematic Theology for many years at Westminster Theological Seminary. Ferguson is a true pastor-theologian in that he has simultaneously served both in the church and the academy.
What follows are the “ten commandments” Ferguson compiled from his forty years of ministry. I will include brief excerpts under each of the points, and include Ferguson’s complete statement on his final point. Since this is long, I will include five today, and follow with the rest tomorrow. I conclude with a few challenges.
1. Know Your Bible Better
I must not be an illiterate. But I do need to be homo unius libri—a man of one Book.
2. Be a Man of Prayer
Alas for me if I don’t see the need for prayer or for encouraging and teaching my people to see its importance. I may do well (I have done well enough thus far, have I not?) . . . but not with eternal fruit.
3. Don’t Lose Sight of Christ
. . . systematic exposition did not die on the cross for us; nor did biblical theology, nor even systematic theology or hermeneutics or whatever else we deem important as those who handle the exposition of Scripture. I have heard all of these in preaching . . . without a center in the person of the Lord Jesus.
Paradoxically not even the systematic preaching through one of the Gospels guarantees Christ-crucified centered preaching.
4. Be Deeply Trinitarian
Our people need to know that, through the Spirit, their fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Would they know that from my preaching?
5. Use Your Imagination
Imagination in preaching means being able to understand the truth well enough to translate or transpose it into another kind of language or musical key in order to present the same truth in a way that enables others to see it, understand its significance, feel its power—to do so in a way that gets under the skin, breaks through the barriers, grips the mind, will, and affections so that they not only understand the word used but feel their truth and power.
What is the secret here? It is, surely, learning to preach the word to yourself, from its context into your context, to make concrete in the realities of our lives the truth that came historically to others’ lives. This is why the old masters used to speak about sermons going from their lips with power only when they had first come to their own hearts with power.